A Self-Evaluation Guide for People in Grief
Losing someone to death can be compared to having our homes victimized by burglars. First, we express outrage, then we struggle through our tears and put the house back in order, but the real hurt begins when we start to miss the items that were stolen.
It takes days, months and years to discover the many reasons that we miss our loved ones. For example, it may not be until our birthday comes around again, that we really miss the bond with the deceased who celebrated with us every year.
This article suggests a self-help guide for the grieving, to help them journal their progress in dealing with the occasional, surprise flashbacks. They cannot stop the memories, but they can stop the tail-spin that comes with the memories.
Personal evaluation is recommended in the survival stages of grief, and should be approached not as a required chore, but rather as a self-help motivational tool, when the bereaved is ready. The GriefShare program, nationally recognized for its group support of the grieving recommends journaling with charts similar to the one below.
Personal Evaluation Chart
Each person travels through the stages of grief at his or her own pace. Consequently, each person is the best authority on the level of his or emotional pain.
Suppose that six weeks after the funeral, someone sends a postcard with a footnote that reads, “I will never forget the wonderful time I had with you and (the name of the deceased) at Thanksgiving last year.”
Possible immediate reactions are:
- fear —that there are no more happy dinners to anticipate
- helplessness —because the bereaved always relied on the assistance of the deceased
- sadness —because the griever imagines the empty chair at the table
- panic —because Thanksgiving is only three weeks away
The grieving person will benefit by observing and admitting that all the above emotions are negative, and will chart them under the appropriate column, “really bad,” or “okay” depending on the intensity of the emotion. Jotting down the adjustments to be made, and maintaining healthy thoughts should result in positive emotions like contentment , serenity and courage. It may be a while before the “great” column receives a notation.
Decline of physical activity in the grieving period, indicates normal grief. Rushing about as usual would be considered abnormal grief behavior.
Slow, deliberate steps are advisable. Charting the daily activities will show improvement in the number of regular chores and the duration of time spent. Include some physical exercise, when possible. It will heighten the sense of well-being.
The grief victim also shows temporary physical symptoms:
- muscle tension,
- heart palpitations,
- chest pains,
- loss of motor skills,
- lack of appetite,
List the ailment under the category which describes its intensity, to keep track of the condition if it improves or worsens.
Observe personal sleep and eating habits and seek medical help, if necessary. The journal record will also help the doctor to diagnose the situation accurately.
Sometimes the grieving person does not feel like speaking, and relatives or close friends are not sure what to do. They wonder:
- Are we being intentionally ignored?
- Are we expected to break the silence?
- Should we just smile and leave?
The bereaved is not obligated to express his or her feelings, but it might help for the helpers to ask:
- Do you want some time alone?
- Can we call you later?
- Would you prefer that we leave, or do you want us to stay and just not engage you in conversation?
Not that the grieving person is responsible for maintaining the relationships, but the level of involvement with other people is an indication of improvement or delay in the grief recovery process. It is wise for the bereaved to be as honest as possible in answering these questions and in charting their feelings.
For many, grief feels like a super-dark enclosure without windows. Light has to come in from a source outside the darkness. In the Christian tradition, we propose that God is the Source of that light.
Simple lists of Bible Promises will come in handy, even if the griever reads one at a time. Many types of Promise Books are available.
- He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds [curing their pains and their sorrows] (Psalm 147:3 (Amplified).
- The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace (Psalm 29:11).
- The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged (Deuteronomy 31:8).
- He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away (Revelations 21:4 NIV)
Choose one or more of hundred of promises. There will soon be reason to check the “Improved and “Great” columns. Add music and dancing to lift the spirits.
(5) In General
Imagine that someone asks, “How are you?” Based on the response of the bereaved, he or she can make an entry on the chart.
Some days the moods will run the whole range from “really bad” to great.” Other days “slightly improved” will last all day. Congratulations are in order whenever the day is “great.” Here, patience is a virtue and if smiles and tears begin to mix on the following day, so let it be.
The deceased would have wanted the mourners to be at peace with his or her passing. They should keep looking in the direction where they want to go.
- Assisting parishioners through grief - Ministry Magazine
When they show interest in looking ahead, they have covered many miles toward adjustment.
(6) A Journal Alternative
An alternative to the check chart is free form journaling, allowing the person to write whatever he or she feels, and in no particular order. It is advisable to write at least one sentence about each of the five areas listed above. The following tips will help:
- Journal whenever you feel like it—every day, if possible.
- Write to encourage, not discourage yourself. Example: for your general comment, “I feel worse today than I did yesterday,” can be edited to read, “Yesterday was better, but I still have time today to improve.”
- Include memories of happy interaction with the deceased.
- Write what you have liked to say, but did not have the opportunity.
Can you imagine what it will be like when you meet again? Journal your hope.
© 2012 Dora Weithers